Writing a book with the close cooperation of its subject is always fraught with difficulties. You are asking them to give up valuable time to help with your research and hoping that they will be as open and honest as possible in the process. Not surprisingly they ask themselves, “What’s in it for me?” The challenge for an independent author is to convince them that a balanced, impartial account is in their interests as well as being essential for a good book that the reader can trust. When the subject is a serving Prime Minister that challenge is multiplied many times over.
When I first met the subject of my book, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, I had to be ready to walk away from the project if my independence wasn’t guaranteed, and I was. Happily he gave me that guarantee and said, “You can criticise me as much as you like”. I flew to India four times during the course of my research and met Modi each time for an hour or more. He was welcoming and very talkative – just what a writer wants! And while he and his staff were naturally curious about how it was going and what I might say, they kept to their word never to tell me what I could or couldn’t write.
When I told them that I‘d be saying in the book that I wouldn’t have supported Modi in the election if I’d had a vote, they didn’t like it one bit. Not for the first or the last time I had to remind them that it was for me and my publishers to decide what went into the book, not them.
Since The Modi Effect came out and it became clear that I’d been lucky enough to get far more access to him than any other foreign journalist and more than most writers in India too, a lot of people have asked how it all came about.
Politics fascinates me, and election campaigns are often the most exciting times in politics. But the idea for a book on Modi’s campaign to become Prime Minister wasn’t mine. I was approached by somebody close enough to know his mind, although not a member of his inner circle. They knew that my politics were far removed from his and that as a former BBC correspondent I prided myself on my independence. But they said they hoped a foreigner would take on the task of assessing the campaign because they wanted it to be better understood outside India. They knew that I’d written well-received books on politics before and recognised that only a genuinely unbiased account would be taken seriously in the West. So that answered the question, “What’s in it for Modi?”
To my astonishment, The Times newspaper recently suggested that I had never heard of Narendra Modi before agreeing to write the book. As a news junkie with a keen interest in foreign affairs, that made me smile. Did they think I’d been hiding under my duvet for the past few months?
More serious was the implication that I had been paid to write a book favourable to its subject, which was equally untrue. For the record, I had a standard publishing contract with Hodder and Stoughton, with whom I’d done a book before. That’s how The Modi Effect was paid for.
When the person who introduced me to the project also offered to support the research financially, I saw no difficulty so long as the red line protecting my independence was never crossed. Research grants are not unusual and many excellent books could never have been written without them. In my case it covered the costs involved in doing the many and various interviews for the book as well as supporting me financially during the time that I was away from home for long periods and deprived of other sources of income. My publishers were aware of the situation and, like me, would never have allowed the arrangement to impinge on the book’s integrity.
The only request from the person who approached me was that he wanted to remain anonymous. He didn’t even want a “thank you” in the acknowledgements. In retrospect maybe I should have insisted, but anyway I’m thanking him now. I’m grateful too for the unstinting support of Hodder and Stoughton (see statement below) and my editor there, Rupert Lancaster. He and I worked together a few years ago fending off the efforts of Tony Blair’s government to dictate what I could write, so we had plenty of useful experience when it came to The Modi Effect. And for what it’s worth the British government did far more to try influence the contents of my previous book, The Spin Doctor’s Diary, than Modi’s government ever did.
Writing about serving Prime Ministers puts you in the firing line. It goes with the job. But it’s worth it, even if some people worry – wrongly – that you may have got too close to your subject. They are fascinating material for a study in contemporary history and it’s worth taking the flak to try to explain what makes them tick.
The following statement was made available by Hodder and Stoughton:
The Modi Effect was written with the cooperation of Narendra Modi and his team, but it is an impartial and objective account of his election campaign from an outsider with a proven track record as an independent political commentator. In some reports it has been stated that Lance Price had never heard of Narendra Modi before embarking on the book. This is not correct.
A third party offered to finance the research stage of the book and, although they are known to Lance Price, they wished to remain anonymous. Hodder & Stoughton, which has a publishing relationship with Lance Price, contracted the book aware of the arrangement and satisfied that as a former BBC Political Correspondent and journalist of integrity, Lance Price would write a book that was entirely objective. From the outset all parties were clear that there would be no restriction at all on what Lance Price could write. There was no financial arrangement between Hodder & Stoughton and the third party.
Reviews of THE MODI EFFECT confirm Lance Price successfully achieved his aim of writing an impartial account of Modi’s campaign to become Prime Minister of India:
‘It’s not a partisan account… It was a calculated risk to give a left of centre political writer so much access…Price’s account is respectful rather than admiring.’ – London Review of Books
‘Price is suitably sceptical about other aspects of Modi’s image…He dissects Modi’s strategic and tactical decisions.’ – Financial Times
‘Unlike most Indian journalists he is not overawed by the man. So whether it is setting aside the apocryphal story about Bal Narendra grappling with a crocodile or indicating the Prime Minister’s undoubted vanity, calling out his exaggeration (that he has been begging for food for the past 40-45 years), Price can be fairly ruthless’ – India Today